Father’s Day is over but I deliberately postponed writing about it because I wanted to see how it would be celebrated this year… and more.
Yes, the malls were packed, and there were all kinds of marketing and promotional gimmicks to get people to buy, in the name of Dad and Tatay, and don’t forget something for Lolo as well.
What I was interested in was how the Filipino father has evolved, so while I lugged around my own brood of kids in Greenhills Shopping Center, I did some anthropology observing other dads, as well as the marketing gimmicks because the advertising people do their research way ahead to look for ways to boost sales.
There was still a lot of pandering to stereotypes, as in the gift suggestions for Dad, with the usual hardware, literally (as in tools), although I wonder how effective this is considering that rich fathers are not about to go around getting their hands soiled. I figured that if you gave them tools they’d hire someone else to use them.
Then there were the watches and cell phones, the men’s fragrances and lots of clothes (but not half of what’s pushed for Mother’s Day).
Even the supermarkets have been getting into the act, with shelves offering Father’s Day specials, but here I realized how strong the stereotyping is. Many of the offers were meat products, with a mild concession to sauces to help Dad do the barbecue. I realized how “unmasculine” vegetables come through. Dads get packets to prepare thick barbecue sauces, and not salad dressings.
I also noticed how the products being pushed for Dad were mostly imported stuff. Again, I’m wondering if it has something to do with stereotypes. It’s OK, it’s great, to give Dad Worcestershire sauce, but not a bottle of patis. That’s unless you follow the lead of UP Law Dean “Danicon” (Danilo Concepcion), who gives his colleagues large bottles of Malabon patis, really strong macho stuff!
Dads and mountains
One Chinese restaurant, Crystal Jade, had an interesting poster that had the Chinese characters fu ai ru shan—a father’s love is like a mountain. It was the first two characters that caught my eye because Chinese fathers are notorious for being distant, and I have never encountered the two words—“father” and “love”—used together, in contrast to “mother” and “love.”
But there it was, and I suspect this is something very recent—the idea that fathers might love their children. Discipline, yes. Provide for them, yes. But love? That’s “sissy stuff.”
So maybe the mountain part was meant to balance out the wimpy connotations. An English translation was on the poster, with a commentary on how fathers must be strong, like mountains. I actually liked the phrase, maybe because I like mountains for their constant presence, which is what dads should be like.
“Should be” is, of course, different from reality. Fathers are all too often absent, the most extreme being the deadbeat Dad who disappears or abandons the girl he gets pregnant or, worse, an entire family.
And the fathers who do stay might not always be there. I’ve seen it everywhere, from pediatricians’ waiting rooms, to Parent-Teacher Association meetings, to sports practice. You hear, for example, of “soccer moms,” the ones who attend their children’s football practice and games, but not of “soccer dads.” An exception, of course, is basketball; Filipino fathers especially take time out to initiate their sons into the game and to play together. Richer families will have more of that father-son bonding through golf. But it’s a Dad-son thing, still very male.
So, yes, think mountains and their reassuring presence. Add on quiet presence, which makes them more powerful. I like quiet fathers—ever watchful, again like mountains.
If the Dad-as-mountain poster represented one aspect of fatherhood, I loved something else from the other end of the spectrum. Café de France had a poster that read “Pampering Papa,” with a photo of a father getting… a facial! It was offering vouchers so Dad could go and get pampered in a spa.
While the photo of Dad with a mud pack does seem novel, it’s not really out of the norm. Filipino males are vain and are also pampered at the barber’s with manicure/pedicure and a heavily lathered shave. The facial and spa treatments are only the most recent additions.
(Note, too, that some spas offer more than vanity treatments, and have connotations of sleaze. You don’t want your Dad going to that kind of spa.)
And the realities of fathering, Filipino style? I looked at the other dads and, yes, they were doing the Tatay bit, carrying their kids, bonding with the family. But then I realized that you can’t observe too much of parenting styles in a mall. That’s done in the home, so other than my own close friends, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to determine the roles that Filipino fathers are taking. It’s hard to say, though, if we’re seeing a change in paternal roles toward the more nurturing side.
All said, then, Father’s Day gimmicks aren’t really radical. We need marketing gimmicks that push for changing Tatay, and liberating him from norms. A facial may be fun, but not emancipating. We need Tatay to feel, on Father’s Day, that he can make salads and carry the baby.
The barriers are still tremendous. I know one very good father who will do anything except change diapers because that’s not masculine. Another one can’t play dolls with his daughters.
Then there’s expressing feelings. We do take the mountain metaphor too seriously, more around being stoic, but that’s a product of earlier societies where fathers often had to go off to war, or defend their villages from invaders.
Today’s needs for fathers are different. I’d like to be “authorized” by society to express times when we’re not as strong as we would like to be, maybe to weep occasionally simply because we’ve had a long and difficult day at the office and now have to do homework with the kids.
The Greenhills dads are still luckier, being financially stable. I can imagine the majority of Filipino fathers just surviving, and the anxieties of not being able to provide for the family.
I think, too, of the many dads who are absent because they have no choice but to work overseas. The hundreds of thousands of seamen are one big group.
We don’t need marketing research to sell stuff on Father’s Day; what we need is to find out what families need from dads, and what dads need from their families, and from society. Fatherhood has always been problematic, enigmatic, but the challenges of the 21st century make fathering even more difficult and daunting.
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